President Trump's sloppily formed vote fraud commission grew out of his specious claim that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the presidential election only because millions of undocumented people voted for her. But he never offered evidence. And the in-person vote fraud he alleges is very rare.
The commission's supposed mission is to prevent future vote fraud, but its recent request for voters' personal information looks like an effort to set up future voter intimidation.
In a June 28 letter, commission vice chairman Kris Kobach asked secretaries of state to provide "the full first and last names of all registrants; middle names or initials, if available; addresses; dates of birth; political party (if recorded in your state); last four digits of Social Security number, if available; voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward; active/inactive status; cancelled status; information regarding any felony convictions; information regarding voter registration in another state; information regarding military status; and overseas citizen information."
So far, 44 states, including Pennsylvania, have rejected all or part of the request to protect their voters' privacy and to demonstrate that states run elections, not the federal government.
Kobach says the information would be released publicly. That's like giving winning lottery numbers to identity theft hackers the day before the drawing.
The commission's overly intrusive data mining makes sense only if it has a different mission. Why does it need conviction and overseas citizen information, if not to harass voters? Trump's treasure trove of data also could be used to puff up misleading arguments for stricter voter ID laws and ultimately purge from the rolls people who don't fit the profile of a Trump voter.
Kobach, who is the Kansas secretary of state, has proven to be a vote fraud alarmist. To decry widespread voting by the dead, he outed a purportedly dead voter only to have a Kansas City Star reporter quickly find out the deceased was very much alive. Kobach supports a system known as Crosscheck, which matches voters from more than two dozen states to make sure they're not registered in two places. But the system spits out hundreds of false matches, seeing no distinction between people who live in different states but have the same name.
Some of the data the Trump commission seeks is already publicly available, such as a voter's history. It is routinely used by political campaigns to target voters but has little value in proving in-person voter fraud. That would require leg work, witnesses, and verification. After the Nov. 8 election, states examined their performances and none came back with evidence of widespread in-person voter fraud.
The voting system is far from perfect, but this fraudulent commission's efforts won't improve it. The commission should instead work to expand voter access by making the case for same-day registration and extended voting. It should help states update their voting machines and computer systems to prevent meddling.
But the Trump administration hasn't worried much about outside meddling, even when presented with real evidence that it occurred.